Ce'st la mort.

Video game architects are terrible at their job. Has there ever been a ship, a tomb, or a castle in a video game that would’ve been usable for anything other than obscuring med kits and requiring insane parkour skills to reach ancient artifacts? Before whatever catastrophe befell them, were these structures at all practical for everyday use?

Those questions were not answered by Unlife, an action platform adventure set shortly after a monster-infested apocalypse drove humans into hiding. It’s an old-school apocalypse, brought about by nuclear fallout, not bioengineering or AI. Ah, the adorably quaint fears of yesteryear.

This is all relayed to the player in a text-heavy cinematic chock full of grammatical errors. I’m normally put off by this (English major, after all), but here, it somehow added to the game’s B movie charm. From start to finish, from mechanics to visuals, this is a Saturday afternoon popcorn flick of a game.

You, our bearded hero, are the last survivor of some sort of industrial platform out at sea. An oil rig? Research facility? Military installation? If that was made clear, I missed it. At first, you’re just trying to survive by scrounging up supplies, med kits, and weapons. This requires a lot of ladder climbing, as apparently elevators and conjoined rooms weren’t a thing at your workplace.

So, you’ll spend a good chunk of the game exploring your surroundings in an effort to find what’s needed to access other areas of the facility. You’ll need to find supplies along the way, and you’ll need to battle a lot of monsters. These range from rabid rats to huge mutations of bone and flesh that serve as the game’s bosses. It’s all effectively creepy, heightened by the game’s atmosphere.

As you’d expect (and want), the visuals are dark throughout. You can switch on lights and turn on your flashlight (watch the battery level), but they only serve to illuminate the immediate area. There are always dark corners in which monsters may lurk or items may be hidden. The game never really ambushes you unfairly, but just moving around the screen can be unsettling. There are even some platforming sections. These are simple enough to handle when you’re just exploring, but can be tricky during combat.

Actually, combat is one of the game’s let-downs, mainly due to controls. You move with the L-stick, but you control the direction you’re facing with the R-stick. If you’re moving left and facing left, you’ll run forward quickly. If you’re moving left but facing right, you back up slowly. At first awkward, I grew to like this because it allowed me to slowly back away from enemies while stabbing at them. The R-stick is also used to aim your attack, a dynamic I didn’t figure out until I was killed by rats a half dozen times. When the real apocalypse arrives, I hope it comes with a tutorial.

The separate movement and orientation controls prove cumbersome, however, when you’re in combat against multiple enemies, and that will happen a lot. Although you can swap between various found weapons, you’ll mostly need to rely on your knife. I’d therefore prefer to not have to seriously think through close-quarter combat.

It also doesn’t help that medkit use is mislabelled. I know it’s the ZL key, but the game screen tells me it’s L, so that’s what I sometimes hit in the heat of combat. As mentioned before, grammatical errors are fine where there are so many that they become a personality trait. But developers, please, at least run your UI through QA, OK?

The other problem with the game is that there’s no real story development. Our bearded hero is trying to escape because he may hold the secret for mankind’s salvation. Fair, but nothing really happens to push this along or to create any sort of urgency. Escaping has to be enough, because that’s really all there is.

That’s not to say, however, that escaping isn’t fun. There’s a nice balance between exploration and combat, and accessing new locations—especially the submarine—was rewarding. Some of the battles are quite frustrating, though, a feeling that’s exacerbated by the lack of game saves. Death can set the player back quite a ways, and nothing ruins a gaming session faster than having to answer, “Do I really want to go through all of that again?”

On the bright side, each death results in this shaming graphic…

I sure am do!

So, again, Unlife is the gaming equivalent of a B level action/horror movie—the kind we used to rent on VHS at gas stations because the actual video rental stores wouldn’t stock it. The kind with taglines like, “Take the stairs, take the stairs! For God’s sake, take the stairs!!!” (Of course, here, the stairs are ladders, and they’re your only option anyway.) If that sounds like fun, then Unlife is fun. If you don’t randomly scroll through Tubi for your movies—which I guess is the modern-day equivalent of renting tapes at gas stations—you’ll likely want to pass this one by.